A deal to install David Ford as Justice Minister was “done and dusted” almost a year before policing was devolved.
US officials were told as early as July 2009 that the |Alliance Party would take |the portfolio and a suitable candidate had already been identified.
The details were swiftly reported back to Washington in a confidential cable by Daniel McNicholas from the US Consulate in Belfast.
In April 2010, Mr Ford was appointed Northern Ireland’s first Justice Minister for 38 years following the devolution of policing powers to Stormont.
The Alliance leader had long been tipped as the person to fill the post.
Indeed, 10 months earlier, the then PUP leader Dawn Purvis had told US officials a deal for an Alliance Justice Minister had been agreed.
“The PUP’s Dawn Purvis told us that the deal enabling the Alliance Party to provide the minister for policing |and justice was ‘done and
dusted’ and that Alliance had already identified a candidate,” the cable states.
Mr McNicholas commented that Mr Ford had been widely tipped for the post.
Around the same time, in a separate briefing to US officials, a senior Alliance member acknowledged his party would be expected to put forward a candidate.
The cable quotes Stephen Farry as stating Alliance, “the least mistrusted party”, would be prepared to take on the role provided that it was “given room to work” and would not be pressured by Sinn Fein or the DUP.
But he warned it was dependent on support from the British, Irish and US governments to “avoid the populism” of Sinn Fein and the DUP, and a generous financial package from London to make devolution work.
In a separate cable, dated November 2009, First Minister Peter Robinson briefed US officials that Mr Ford was the most likely choice.
“Robinson confirmed that the likely Justice Minister will be Alliance party leader David Ford and that the DUP and Sinn Fein have met with Ford and other senior Alliance members to discuss the set up of the new ministry,” the cable states.
It reports Mr Robinson complained how Mr McGuinness and his representatives had only joined one of three meetings that had been held with Mr Ford.